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Record waiting lists reveal "sea of need" caused by Covid

11 Mar 2021

The largest ever reported waiting list of 4.59 million people was announced today. Within it, the number of people in England waiting longer than a year for hospital treatment has shot up to over a quarter of a million, following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Royal College Surgeons of England warns, “The latest wave of COVID may have subsided, but the huge sea of need behind it is now coming into view.”

NHS England figures published today for January 2021, show over a quarter of a million people (304, 044) waiting more than 52 weeks for hospital treatments such as hip and knee replacements, ear, nose or throat surgery.  Just one year earlier (Jan 2020) only 1, 643 people in England were waiting over a year.

Commenting on the figures, Mr Tim Mitchell, Vice- President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said:

“These numbers reflect the dire situation that engulfed our hospitals in January.  Covid transmission and admissions escalated at an alarming rate, putting tremendous strain on our healthcare system. In London, for instance, surgical staff and facilities were re-deployed to look after patients with the virus. There was a serious threat hospitals would be pushed beyond their limits, and even urgent cancer surgeries were postponed.  This disruption meant tens of thousands of planned operations and other non-Covid treatments were put on ice, adding to the enormous backlog of elective surgeries that we now see.

“Behind today’s statistics are people waiting in limbo. Many will be in considerable pain, others will have restricted mobility and be at risk of isolation and loneliness.  Dealing with this daunting backlog will take time, and also sustained investment in the NHS.

“Now we are seeing encouraging data from the vaccination programme in terms of declining cases and hospitalisations, but infection prevention measures remain critical.  Frontline healthcare staff in hospitals have been fighting this crisis for a year. Many are exhausted and need time to recover.  The latest wave of COVID may have subsided, but the huge sea of need behind it is now coming into view.”


Notes to editors

1. The Referral to Treatment [RTT] figures are published here:

2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

 3. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Tel. 0207 869 6052; email: For out-of-hours media enquiries, please telephone: 0207 869 6056.

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